Rachael Nicol, a military service veteran who served in Afghanistan and in Kuwait, joined the Stanford community in September 2018 as a junior and declared psychology as her major.
By Kathleen J. Sullivan
In Afghanistan, U.S. Army Sgt. Rachael Nicol accompanied Special Forces soldiers on missions throughout the country – on land and by helicopter – as part of a two-woman team responsible for interacting with and building a rapport with Afghan women.
One day near the end of her deployment, the convoy in which Nicol was traveling was ambushed on three sides, leading to an eight-hour firefight.
In addition to returning fire with a machine gun from the back of a truck, she delivered mortar rounds to soldiers in another truck.
During the ambush, a Special Forces soldier was gravely wounded. As soon as the convoy gained the upper hand, Nicol’s truck began making its way toward a site where a medical evacuation helicopter could airlift the soldier to the base hospital.
It was a day that ended in tragedy with the soldier’s death.
Nicol, who sustained minor shrapnel wounds, later was awarded the Purple Heart.
She also received a Bronze Star Medal with Valor – a “V” is pinned to the red, white and blue ribbon from which the star hangs – for her bravery under fire that day.
During a 2014 ceremony at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama pinned the two medals to Nicol’s camouflage combat uniform, following a speech to the troops at the sprawling American compound north of Kabul.
Nicol, who completed her Army contract in January 2016, arrived at Stanford in September 2018. She was one of 23 transfer students – including nine military veterans – who joined the undergraduate community. Nicol, a Stanford junior, had earlier earned associate degrees in Spanish and in intelligence operations. She declared psychology as her major.